A Thought Piece by Louise Cowley 2 April 2020

We’ve been inspired by the dedication and hard work of our staff right across the trust during this challenging time, as they work tirelessly both in their academies and from home to support our students and academy communities.

Over the coming weeks, we will be shining a light on some of the excellent work that is taking place within the trust, by catching up with staff working from home and in academy.

This week, we caught up with Louise Cowley, Deputy Headteacher about how staff are working at Bourne End E-ACT Academy in Buckinghamshire.

This has been a challenging period for most. How have the staff and students at Bourne End been feeling?

As a team, we’ve been very positive and proactive where we can be. I think the last week of academy was difficult for our students, and for Year 11 in particular. When it came out that the exams wouldn’t be going ahead, they seemed very down and sad. That was tough.

We decided to remain positive and to shift the focus to their futures. On their last day in the academy, our Headteacher Likhon Muhammad told Year 11 that each and every one of them had a place at our sixth form. I think that reassured them.

We then focused the whole day on their futures: thinking about university, showing them LinkedIn, starting conversations about their personal development plans. With everything going on in the world right now, we wanted to maintain a sense of normality. We also promised them all that they will not miss out on their Year 11 Prom – whenever we go back, there will be some sort of celebration.

In the first week after the academy closed, we had a few children of key workers coming in to the academy. We have a very strong home learning plan in place so they were coming into the academy and following the same programme as their classmates.

How is the academy supporting students with their home learning?

I am incredibly proud of how the staff at BEA have mobilised at this challenging time, providing a clear structure to engage and support students with their home learning. All our staff have gone above and beyond to ensure that students feel safe and connected to the academy.

Teachers have planned engaging weekly home learning plans which detail the material that students should be covering in each subject. We have decided to allocate one teacher per subject per year group: for example, we have one person leading on Year 7 maths. Every day, we hold a ‘subject surgery’, which gives students time to ask any questions that they may have.

Our learning support assistants are also playing an important role, working closely with parents to adapt and tailor the home learning plans to meet students’ individual needs.

We have been using the ClassCharts digital platform, which enables us to set a piece of homework in each subject every week. Through the platform, we can mark students’ work and provide them with valuable feedback. It’s all about showing students that their learning is worthwhile.

Bourne End places a huge focus on the extra-curricular and personal development. How are you supporting students in this area?

We’re making the whole package really purposeful for our students. We’re trying to help them to think wider than their studies – we’ve looked at contacting local care homes and setting up a pen pal system so they can email people there. We’ve got a strong link with the Rotary Club so they’ve been working closely with our sixth formers to think about what they can do to help their community at this time.

Our heads of year have created very impressive and relevant personal development sessions, teaching students about what is actually going on in the world. These sessions are equipping students with the skills that they need to think critically, helping them to differentiate between news and fake news.

We’re also encouraging students to look into different qualifications that they can achieve while at home: for example, you can take part in Massive Open Online Courses or ‘MOOCs’ from prestigious universities like Harvard or MIT. We want them to keep thinking big while they’re at home.

How are you helping students and staff with their wellbeing?

We have set up a Bourne End Instagram account that is dedicated to physical and mental wellbeing (@bea_wellbeing). We share useful tips around managing stress and anxiety during this uncertain time. We’ve also shared some PE challenges to help our students keep active!

Our whole-academy curriculum challenges will also contribute to everyone’s wellbeing: every fortnight, we’re setting a subject-related challenge for absolutely everyone to get involved with. We want people to feel connected to each other and to the academy, because maintaining that sense of community is so important.

As for our staff, I feel that we have really come together to support one another in the virtual world. Our daily briefings are always focused on sharing positive stories about what we are doing. It was also lovely to get together on Friday for a big ‘cheers’ with our virtual end-of-work drinks!